When Self-Electrocution Was Used To Cure What Ails You

By | June 6, 2017

The hydro-electric belt first appeared at the World’s Fair in London in 1851. It was comprised of several batteries and electrodes and was used to “cure” everything by sending an electric current through its wearer’s body. Ailments it's targeting include migraines, anxiety, depression, poor digestion, constipation, gout, and even a lack of confidence.

The belt, which was made of of copper, zinc, wood, and leather, was invented by Isaac Pulvermacher of Vienna, and was most commonly known as Pulvermacher’s galvanic chain belt. It was also sold under a variety of names, including Addison’s, Owen’s, and Heidelberg’s.

This contraption came with two sponges, a 32-page instruction booklet complete with testimonials from satisfied customers. It weighed around 2.5 pounds, and consisted of a chain of batteries to be worn around the problem areas, be it your head or your leg, like a belt.

The hydro-electric belt was said to penetrate every nerve in the body with an 80-gauge current, making it the “most powerful” self-electrocuting belt of its time.

The belt was initially well-received, even supported by some of Queen Victoria’s physicians and medical staff at the height of its success.

While it may seem as though Pulvermacher created the idea behind this contraption, history shows that the use of electrotherapy has been in practice as far back as the year 48 BC, with Scribonius Largus, physician to the Roman Emperor Claudius.

Largus, in the company of other ancient medical practitioners such as Hippocrates and Galen, would often look to the electrical discharges given off by torpedo fish, also known as the electric ray, to treat conditions ranging from migraines to gout to a prolapsed anus.

The popularity of the hydro-electric belt eventually died, revealing itself to be more of a fad than a real medical cure. The medical community ended up rejecting the device entirely.

Pulvermacher himself was even involved in a court battle, upon attempting to sue a consumer for non-payment of services rendered. The customer, H. Mott, of Oxford, had agreed to pay for the hydro-electric belt on an installment basis. However, after continued use, Mott experienced severe headaches and no improvement of his condition. He then sent the belt back, demanding compensation in return.

Today, electrotherapy is considered to be a credible method of treating pain and inflammation, and while the flashy gadgetry of the electrocuting belt is no more, its underlying methods —ones in use today — are not much different than the technology behind Pulvermacher’s infamous creation.

h/t ATI